This year, expectations are high. I know there isn't much I can say that hasn't been said already, so I will spare the length and get to it. It is Week 1. We are coming off the most impressive season we have seen as fans of any collegiate athletics team. The Ohio University Bobcats will be visiting our stadium on Sunday. The last time we played these guys, we lost. That was 1959, but still, the Revenge Tour continues. They have a Senior quarterback, Tyler Tettelton, who is on the Johnny U watch list and threw for 2844 yards, 18 TD's and just 4 INT's. They also have a Senior Running Back who holds the single season school record of 1604 yards, Beau Blankenship. He is being mentioned in the same breath as Dom Brown and Senorise Perry for the Doak Walker Award watch list. They have some solid players, I'm just not sure that the depth is there.
Last year, GoCardsGuy did a write up for ten of the most important team aspects in judging how competitive and complete a team should be leading up to the season. Those areas are Offensive Line Play, The Run Game, Special Teams, Impact of "New" Players, Coaching, Depth, Defensive Pressure, Expectations, Position Edges, and Offensive Improvement. From that, I took each of those ten areas and did a moderately in-depth write up which were game and opponent specific. At the end of each section, I rated the advantage or disadvantage on a 5 point scale, -2, -1, Even, +1, or +2. The 2 point advantage were reserved for extreme advantages or disadvantages for the CARDS. I will warn you, it is kind of long. Set some time aside to read it later if you need. Let's Begin. Just a few more days.
- Offensive Line Play - This is an area that the Ohio Bobcats feel they are comfortable. I;m just not so sure. They return Jon Lechner who has started 25 games in his career, and Ryan McGrath and John Prior who have started at least one full year. They did lose their Center and a couple Guards, but do have solid contributers elsewhere. They have some other talented linemen who have seen a good bit of action who will fill in the holes. When you look at the run game next, it all stems from the O-Line and their ability to open up holes, which they did well last year. Now, when it comes to Louisville's O-Line, a lot of you are worried about the lack of experience. But guys, I have good news for you. This is not 2010. In 2010, our Offensive Tackles were both under 300lbs. This year, they are both over 340. We have bigger boys. We have pro-bodies. We have technique and skill. We did lose key guys in very important positions from last year, but we have moved and kept guys who all played huge roles last year. Each of the replacements saw good time on the field over the last year. It really all comes down to protecting TB5. This will fall largely on Nacho and our running backs in the backfield blocking. I feel that with their size and another year of coaching under their belts, they will be improved this year, even with losing guys to graduation. When it comes to run blocking, these guys have moved around so much, they know each positions role in the offense so well that most of them know where everyone else will be on the play. That is a big advantage. This advantage is good for a point of the CARDS. CARDS +1
- The Run Game - As I mentioned earlier, Ohio's returning running back is a good one. Beau Blankenship ran for over 1600 yards and 15 TD's last year. He averaged more than 5 yards per carry. And he did so against teams like Penn State, Miami, and Marshall. Ryan Boykin, who averaged 63 yards per game last year, will also be back, but he is a clear backup to Mr. Blankenship. Expect the O-Line to try to establish the run to open up the field for Tettleton to throw it around. And don't forget, he can run, too. However, with the lack of an experienced Center, it could a little tougher than the Bobcats would like. On our side of the ball, there are 16 running backs that could all see serious game action. Less than that, but Nicky Flash (Close). Still, with Senorise Perry getting the start as a Senior (Seniorise?), don't be surprised if "The Big Brown Truck" or "Blow By-er Dyer" come in deep in the drive for some short yardage runs. There is a lot of talent in that position. With Lamb and Radcliff backing up those three, it could be scary for opposing teams. Think of it like this, in 2004, when Eric Shelton was tearing teams up and getting them completely winded, all they wanted to do was get off the field and rest. Then Michael Bush came in and said, "Screw that, guys, you can get off the field as soon as I run over your @ss and get in that painted part of the field." Then Lionel Gates would come in and be like, "Don't worry about trying to catch your breath, it ain't gonna happen. Boom" Sort of like that, but better. We are loaded at Running Back with serious talent. The kind of talent that could win us some games pretty. Advantage: CARDS +1
- Special Teams - Ohio returns their Punter from last year, but loses their 75% Field Goal Kicker with no clear-cut answer for a replacement. This could be a shaky area for the Bobs. Their leading Kick Returner, Daz Patterson, is the only return man to score a touchdown. He led the team with 582 return yards with one 100 yard touchdown return and a 24 yard average on Kick-Offs. Our field goal kicker, John Wallace, went 16-21 as a Freshman last year. He became the first kicker ever to make 2 field goals in a Bowl Game for the CARDS. He was perfect with kicks inside of 40 yards. He was only 2-7 beyond 40 yards, which is an area he has been working on. Our returning Punter, Ryan Johnson, averaged nearly 40 yards per kick, and looked good in the practices that I saw. In the return game, they don't have a lot of proven explosive players yet, but Kai De La Cruz is a name that I wanted to type. And he is due to have an explosive year, assuming he can hold onto the ball. James Quick is not on the Depth Chart here, but don't be surprised to see him field a kick in the second half. I watched this area a lot in practice, as it was the main area that needs improvement. I am confident in saying that it will be much better. There may still be the occasional breakdown in coverage, but everyone seems much more comfortable and educated in their role on kick coverage. Advantage: CARDS +1
- Impact of "New" Players - When you read "New Players," two names immediately come to your mind, Michael Dyer and James Quick. The impact of these two guys will be immeasurable. However the "New" Player I am going to discuss is not a player at all. Coach Strong and the team want the fans in the stadium for kick-off. It is not to make it look better on TV. It is not to increase beer sales for Centerplate. It is to create an environment for this team to start off on the right foot from the get go. I would know from experience, running down that walkway onto the field with 55,000 people yelling wildly, that will get you going. If it can do that much for a mascot, I can't imagine what it does for the players. If the excitement is there, it is contagious. Coach is just trying to allow his/our team to feed off our energy and excitement. This is the first game to make it happen. This is the first game of the new year. All In for Week One, All Fans In for Week One. If the Pop is hoppin'(No? Maybe? Okay then.), how will their "New" players deal with the hostile environment. They do have some new guys looking to come in this year and make some noise early on, especially their Defensive Line. If they can make big plays, this could be huge for the way this one plays out. Also, the new comers on the O-Line have to come up big as well to keep them in it. Advantage: CARDS +1
- Coaching - Frank Solich has coached the Bobcats for the past 8 seasons. Going into his 9th year, he is 59-44, with two straight bowl wins and coming off of a 9 win season. He also coached at Nebraska for 6 years and did well there. His total W-L record as a Head Coach is 117-63. Pretty impressive for a coach of a MAC school, or hell, a coach anywhere. He has done a good job of keeping his staff together as well. 5 of his 11 coaches have been with him all 9 seasons he has been there, and 8 of them have been there at least 4 years. The coaches for the CARDS are some of the most highly sought after coaches in the country, most of them now entering their 4th season with the team. It seems they are each coming to their own at the right time. Coach Bedford promises to have his D fly around the field and be more aggressive. Coach Watson has all sorts of weapons at his disposal. They have made a lot of the right calls over the past couple of years, now it is time to see those years pay off. A lot of people look at this game and call it a trap game. I look at it and compare it to the games from last year in which Charlie had multiple weeks to prepare, Florida and Kentucky. We won both of those games convincingly with a clear game plan. I expect to see the Charlie Strong X-press (CSX... Train... Get it?... Nevermind) stay the course and keep on rolling in the new year. They should be ready for just about anything Ohio can throw, or run, at them. CARDS +2
- Depth - From last year to this year, the RobertCats were able to hold onto 16 starters, 8 on offense, 6 on defense, 2 on special teams. However, they did lose 10 players, including two D-Linemen, two Line-Backers, a Full-Safety and their Place Kicker. On Offense, they lost one of their Right Guards, their left guard, and their Center. As far as proven depth, there are some positions that lack a whole lot. They have some good starters and a couple solid go-to's at Wide Out and Tight End, but deep? Maybe a kiddie pool (Don't even think about it). Louisville, by comparison, is the deep end. They have a very big advantage here. The CARDS are 2-3+ deep at just about every position. Look at skill positions. Look at the lines. Hell, the BCS Championship MVP Running back is technically a third stringer on this Louisville team. I expect the CARDS to pull away in this game, mainly because the Bobbies just don't have enough players to plug and play. Who will step in and fill those holes? Not enough players to win the battle of depth. CARDS +2
- Defensive Pressure - So, Lorenzo Mauldin (LoZo) (LocoMotive) wants to be better than a hound dog. He's gonna try to rock the jailhouse blitz. He wants to make Saturday the 14th an early blue Christmas in Lexington. That's right, he wants to be better than Elvis. Mauldin thinks he can break Elvis Dumervil's sack record of 20.5 Sacks in a single season. That is his goal. Can he do it? It starts in game one, against a team that gave up 27 sacks last season and lost some key components from the O-Line. If anyone can, it is a guy with a motor like his. Throughout the year, if we can keep everyone healthy, we are looking at what could be a good game and really special year for the CARDS D. Like I just mentioned, Coach Bedford has promised that we would go hard after those in the backfield and fly all around the field. He wants the Defense to be just as exciting as the Offense. This has the potential to be a lot of fun to watch. The Ohio defense can get to the quarterback pretty regularly as well. They recorded 25 sacks last year, so look for them to come after Teddy when they can. They are young, but I can see a couple of missed assignments causing a couple sacks. Still, don't expect it to get Teddy out of his groove. This game should kick-start TD's Heisman talk this year if the offense plays its "cards" right. Ohio's secondary is a young and relaxed one, which means go in for the kill for the surgeon Bridgewater. CARDS+1
Expectations - Expectations are high for the CARDS. Sunday, National television, target on their back, number 9 next to the name. This game will show how far this team could go this year. If we see a game like we last saw in New Orleans, we can start believing that it could happen. If we look moderately unimpressive, we will have some things to work on during the short week before Eastern
High SchoolKentucky. This is easily the best chance for our favorite team to go undefeated and make it to the National Championship Game in the history of the program. Teddy seems primed to lead this team into the spotlight, the Backfield and Wide-outs appear ready, the coaches are focused on leading them to an outstanding season, and it starts with week one. The expectations at Ohio are quite high as well. They were picked to win the MAC East division conference title for the second year in a row. They have won 8, 9, or 10 games every year since 2009. In the USA Today poll, Ohio received more votes than all AAC teams not named Louisville combined with 8. For the team that opened last season with a huge win over Penn State last year, they face an even steeper challenge to open this season. But they will be trying to beat a team that has them overmatched at most positions and in just about every statistical category. With so much to play for for the CARDS and the disadvantages in talent for Ohio, UofL gets the edge here. CARDS+2
- Position Edges - Teddy is, well, Teddy. 27 TD's, 8 INT's 3700+ Yards, and about 70% completions. He is just freaking good. Tettelton is good, but no TD. The guys Teddy will be handing off to are just beasts. The 5 headed monster will take on just about any backfield and win, including this one. Our Wide Outs are loaded, while theirs are good, but limited. Our D-Line will look to contain and stop the run. Theirs will try to affect TD, but it shouldn't be too big an issue. The CARDS O-Line must prove themselves, starting this Sunday. Our Secondary should prove to be a bit better than theirs, and with the D-Line rushing the QB, look for some errant throws up for grabs. I think our D-backs should look better in this one with more big plays. Special teams is about even with a slight edge to the CARDS in the place kicking game. That being said, the CARDS are just the all around better team early in the season. CARDS +2
- Offensive Improvement - Last year, the CARDS offense had some good looking games, but really had a knack for sometimes only shining in the last two minutes of the game. So long as the weather holds off this year and injuries stay away, I think we will see the offense look really good for full games. We should put up 5-6 TD's in this one, running a very balanced style of football. The running game will open up the passing game. The play action will be a killer this year. Teddy goes to 9 different guys this Sunday and throws for 2 touchdowns. But don't expect for the CARDS to be a quick strike offense. The Run Game should slow the tempo and wear down the opponents D. Ohio brings back their starting QB, Running back, and some Wide Outs, and should be very good, but with the differences along the O-Line, it will be difficult for them to stop the CARDS Defense from harassing the fur off of the Cats. They will really need to limit turnovers, score often, and get some breaks to win this one. I see them playing well, but not being in it as the CARDS win going away. CARDS +1
As of Monday night, the spread sits with the CARDS favored by 20.5. This is a lofty spread for a team that is probably on upset alert on someone's (Digger? Why are you picking football games?) weekend watch somewhere, but 20.5 still sounds a little high here. I have the CARDS according to these stats at a 14 point advantage. On paper, it looks like you could certainly take the Bobs and the points. I would be inclined to take the Bobcats on that one. Even if the CARDS go up big, Charlie has never been one to throttle an opponent. I like the CARDS to go up 10 before Ohio gets on the board with a touchdown of their own. The CARDS score a couple more times, making it a 24-14 halftime score. After halftime, the running game wears down The Meowin' Robbies, and the advantage goes to Louisville. The CARDS get a few more Touchdowns and while Ohio manages a touchdown and a couple field goals. Prediction, one of those touchdowns for the CARDS is not scored by the offense. Just saying, watch for it. I like the CARDS to win the season opener, and to defeat the Bobs in a good looking game from both sides of the ball. OSM Pick: 44-27
Note: At 1pm, anyone with a CCBM is encouraged to meet at the Stadium side of the Football Tunnel of the Denny Crum Overpass and walk over to the site of the Card March at 1:15. I will be there this Sunday wearing a Red Anthony Conner Jersey as usual, White Uniform Game Pants, and a custom CCBM. See you there. Also, my season tickets are in the last row of 134 this year if you give a crap. I cannot wait to get to Sunday! This could be a very big weekend in UofL Football! See you Sunday! What do you call a Cat with no arms and no legs in a pool? Bob-Cat! Boom. They're going down.
Beat Ohio!!! Go CARDS!!!